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New location doesn't move school out of shadow of suicide

Date: 7/14/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Although the school leaders of the New Leadership Charter School were happy to speak about the new location for the school at a press conference on Wednesday, they declined comment on the on-going story of one of their students, Carl Walker, who committed suicide this year attributed to bullying at the school.

His mother, Sirdeaner Walker, was scheduled to speak about school bullying in Congress on Wednesday.

Peter D'Aboul, the chair of the charter school's board of trustees, said that he could not speak about the incident other than to say the school's policies about bullying have been reviewed.

"We have very firm policies in place," he said. "Policies don't always insure how people behave," he added.

D'Aboul could not offer further comment on those policies or how they have been amended in the light of the death that occurred in April.

The questions on the suicide overshadowed the announcement the school will move from modular buildings located at Western New England College (WNEC) to the former home of the Holy Name School on Alderman Street in the Forest Park section of the city.

By moving to Holy Name, the school will now have its own gym and cafeteria. It serves 487 students and has 56 employees.

Because the school is a Horace Mann charter school, the city is responsible for finding and paying for a site for the charter school. It is leasing the Holy Name facility.

The city recently purchased two former parochial schools to house two public schools, but because the school is physically linked to the church, it was decided to lease it rather than sell it, according to Jack Dill who handles the real estate concerns for the Springfield Diocese.

The city would have been paying $9.7 million over a ten-year lease to WNEC. The lease with the parish would cost the city $4.9 million over a ten-year-period.

The school will be open for the next year in the fall.

School Committee member Antonette Pepe said the Holy Name School is "clean and in perfect condition."

"I know it's going to be a great partnership," Pepe added.

Mayor Domenic Sarno said that conditions at the modular buildings "could not be tolerated any more."

The school was founded in 1998 and was originally located at Van Sickle Middle School. It then moved to West Springfield and has been at WNEC for the past eight years.

Sarno said the move is part of the continual effort to address the physical plant needs of the city.

Patrick Sullivan, parks superintendent and facilities management director, confirmed to Reminder Publications the city and the diocese are working together to address the building's compliance for handicapped accessibility.